Uncelebrated face of music

Versatile

He, unfortunately, won the coveted trophy only once in his distinguished career, way back in 1971 for Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo, zara aage bhi zara peeche bhi from Mera Naam Joker.

Manna Dey recently celebrated his 92nd birthday and has had an illustrious musical career. Incidentally, although Mukesh was Raj Kapoor’s official singing voice, some of his best songs lighted up the screen in Prabodh Chandra Dey’s (Manna Dey) rich voice — Dil ka haal sune dilwala; Pyar hua ikraar hua (Shri 420, 1955), Duniya ne toh mujh ko chod diya (Sharda, 1957), Laga chunri mein daag (Dil Hi To Hai).

Strong classical base

Although Manna Dey has already been bestowed with the Padma Shri (1971), Padma Bhushan (2005) and the coveted Dadasaheb Phalke Award (2009) by the government (he has also won two National Awards for Best Playback Singer, one each for a Bengali and Hindi film), the Filmfare trophy, despite controversies, enjoys a pre-eminent position among a million other awards.

Unfortunately, this towering singer has had to play second fiddle to almost all the major Bollywood playback singers — Talat Mahmood, Hemant Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar. Rafi once said, on record: “You listen to my songs, I listen to Manna Dey songs only.”

Some of Manna Dey’s immortal songs include, Kuan aaya mere man ke dware (Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957), Jhoomta mausam mast mahina (Ujala, 1959), Tere naina talaash kare jise (Talaash,1969) ), Ketakee gulab juhi champak ban phule (Basant
Bahaar, 1956), Pucho na kaise mein rain betayee (Meri Surat Teri Aankhe, 1963), Pyar ki aag mein tan badan jal gaya (Ziddi, 1964), Phool gendva na maro lagat karijva mein teer (Dooj ka Chand, 1964), Usko nahin dekha hamne kabhi (Mem Didi, 1966), Kasme vaade pyar vafa sab wade hai wado ka kya (Upkaar, 1967), Jhanak jhanak tori baje payalia (Mere Huzoor, 1968), Tum bin jeevan kaise beeta (Bawarchi, 1972) and that incomparable Ek chatur naar kar ke singaar duet with Kishore Kumar filmed on Mehmood and Sunil Dutt in Padosan. He is reported to have sung 3500 songs in Hindi and Bengali, including non-film tracks.

According to purveyor of Hindustani film music, Raju Bharatan, the reason for Manna Dey having had to play second fiddle to his less talented competitors was because major music composers felt intimidated by his capabilities as “he knew too much. By the same classical token, he gave a near inferiority complex to our later line of music directors.

Either way, Manna Dey was the one to lose out.” He adds, “In the 68 years during which he has enriched our musical vocabulary, Manna Dey has left his imprimatur on the Indian psyche with the sustained resonance of his performance. He is not a miser hoarding songs, but a millionaire expending them on the audience. Manna Dey, as the Great Caruso of Hindustani film music, never ceased to amaze me with his vocal resilience of mind and spirit.”

A graduate of Scottish Church College, Calcutta, Prabodh Chandra Dey was groomed by his uncle, Krishna Chandra Ray (with whom he later teamed up as a music director for a while), Ustad Dabir Khan, and later, under the watchful eyes of Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Ustad Abdul Rahman Khan, while he scored music for some forgettable movies. His first song was a duet with Suraiya for Tamanna (1943). He scored the music for this film with his uncle.

Manna Dey’s first solo was for composer S D Burman, from whom he learnt a great deal. Unfortunately, this talented music director made the least use of Manna Dey’s vocal cords. He has so far sung for 82 Hindi films, including Valmiki, Awaara, Shri 420, Chori Chori, Sharda, Dil Hi to Hai, Mera Naam Joker, Do Bigha Zameen, Parineeta, Seema, Do Ankhen Barah Haath, Love In Tokyo, Waqt, Teesari Kasam, Pyar Kiye Jaa , Neelkamal, Ek Phool Do Maali, Anand, Sholay, Seeta aur Geeta, Shor, Reshma aur Shera, Hindustan ki Kasam, Saudagar, Zanjeer, Bobby, Sanyasi, Amar Akbar Anthony, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Karz, Kranti, Lawaaris, for almost every composer worth his name in a distinguished and undiminished career spanning almost seven long decades.

Not given his due

Manna Dey has written his autobiography in Bengali titled Jiboner Jalsaghorey, which was rendered into English — Memories Come Alive — by Sarbani Putatunda. The book is also available in Hindi and Marathi. A documentary on his life, Jibaner Jalsaghore, was also made in 2008.

Towards the end of the film, he states: “Never in the wildest dreams would I have imagined in the early phases of my career as a singer that I would be able to generate so passionate a response to my performances… Lovers have told me that my songs, with their bittersweet appeal, have been a source of inspiration for them. If even a fraction of what they claim is true, I will consider myself blessed.”

There were moments of remorse, disappointment and indignation in this brilliant singer’s career, the most significant being that despite having great talent, dispensation, understanding of classical music, and some of the finest songs to his credit, he was never give his due and had to play second fiddle even to the likes of Mahendra Kapoor.

It is also sad and even paradoxical to note that a playback singer with the least knowledge of classical music, Kishore Kumar, could reach such penultimate heights of success, piggyback riding on stars like Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan among others (it is said such was his craze that at one time even Mohammad Rafi stopped lending his voice), while a versatile artiste like Manna Dey, despite singing some of his finest songs for major stars of his generation, remained uncelebrated in Hindi film music.

One of Manna Dey’s regrets is that despite giving some of his best performances for Raj Kapoor, the actor patronised Mukesh, except on a few, rare occasions. As Manna Dey said, “And while Raj Kapoor preferred to have Mukesh sing for him, the one actor who was adamant about using my voice alone was the famous comedian of Hindi films – Mehmood.”

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